A Meta-Analysis of the Direction and State of Sociotechnical Research in a Range of Disciplines: For Practitioners and Academics

A Meta-Analysis of the Direction and State of Sociotechnical Research in a Range of Disciplines: For Practitioners and Academics

Elayne Coakes (University of Westminster, UK) and Jim Coakes (University of Westminster, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-507-0.ch001
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This is the first in a series of articles providing a meta-analysis of journal articles using sociotechnical approaches as a dominant theme. In this article we look at the article repository Business Source Complete and two specific search terms: sociotechnology and sociotechnical, to extract relevant papers from 1968 onwards. We identify trends in publishing relevant articles which appear to show a revival of interest from the 1990s to date. It appears that this revival has been prompted by the expansion of large work systems and their frequent partial or complete failures which limit their usability in organisations. Using Content Analysis we have analysed 42 papers that discuss sociotechnical theory and its development and have found that the fields of application of the theory have shifted from human resources; to work design and operations management; to most recently, knowledge management and philosophy.
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This article is the first of a series looking at trends in sociotechnical publishing. Our overall aim is to provide a meta-analysis of academic ideas as demonstrated by their output in journals, books and published book reviews. We draw on the published work from 1968 to April 2008 to highlight the major areas of concern; the research domains; the theories and frameworks utilised in research; the social and technological emphasis; the underpinning understanding of sociotechnology demonstrated; the journals most favoured for publication; and the most prolific authors within certain fields of expertise.

This article is drawn from searches conducted on Business Source Complete (BSC), the largest international database of academic publications (10,000 journals) available within the UK, looking at the spelling variants sociotechnology and sociotechnical. The second article in this series will look also at BSC, but at the other possible spelling variants including socio-technology and socio-technical. The reason for splitting this search in two is the large numbers of articles under consideration. Additionally, we will draw on the analysis of this first article to assist in developing the analysis of the further articles. The third article will therefore be able to look at all four spelling variants in the Web of Science database (which concentrates on scientific publishing and in which many computer journals are extracted). The fourth and final article will consider only US published work as exemplified by articles in books and journals from IGI-Global publications and its imprints. IGI-Global is one of the largest publishers of academic and scholarly texts in the USA.

In this article we start by discussing what the various authors and authorities consider sociotechnology to be, firstly from key authors, and then from the general, as demonstrated by a Google search undertaken during April and May 2008. A short history of sociotechnical thinking and its development is followed by a comparison with the use of the term in its various spellings (sociotechnical, socio-technical; sociotechnology, socio-technology; and occasionally SocioTechnology) in the retrieved abstracts, and the key words associated with it by both BSC and the actual articles. We then describe the search methodology and identify the research questions. The next section of this article contains our findings and discussion related to the BSC search and to a review of articles published relating to the theory of sociotechnology. Finally we draw our conclusions and indicate future research requirements.

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